Federal judge Ewing Werlein, Jr. has dismissed civil rights claims filed against the Harris County Flood Control District by the surviving spouse of a man who drowned allegedly as the result of the release of water from the Addicks and Barker reservoir after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area in 2017.

Plaintiff sued the Harris County Flood Control District and the United States claiming that the Army Corps of Engineers and the District “deliberately began releasing water from both reservoir systems … out of fear that water would spill over and cause uncontrolled damage to downtown Houston.” 

Plaintiffs sued under the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C § 1983,  and Texas wrongful death law claiming that the dead man was deprived of his federally-protected right to life.

The judge found that the Plaintiff’s state law claims were barred by governmental immunity.  Assistant County Attorneys argued that the Plaintiffs failed to identify a policymaker or an official policy of the District that was the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violation. The judge agreed writing in his order: “Plaintiffs allege no facts to support an inference that HCFCD’s policymaker, rather than the Corps, made the decision to open the Corps’s dams, nor do the allege that the Corps had authorized HCFCD to operate or release water from its dams.” The Court had previously dismissed the United States based on federal sovereign immunity. The Case is Haines v the United States and the Harris County Flood Control District.

Three lawsuits arising from Hurricane Harvey have been filed against the Flood Control District.  This is the second one that has been dismissed.

Melissa Spinks and Rolf Krueger were the lead attorneys on the case. Melanie LeBert was the lead paralegal.